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Burningham sues over lost signature gathering opportunity in the COVID-19 pandemic

Jeff Burningham
Posted at 10:52 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 13:01:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeff Burningham, the Provo businessman who sought the Republican nomination for governor, has filed a lawsuit against state elections officials after he did not make it on the ballot.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Burningham alleges that the state's emergency orders for COVID-19 blocked him from submitting his signatures to earn a spot on the GOP primary ballot. He asks a federal judge to put him on the ballot or instruct the state to accept the signatures he has already gathered with a lowered threshold.

Burningham's attorney said that he had been gathering signatures since January when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When the governor issued his "Stay Safe, Stay Home" directive, he had gathered 19,150 signatures. But he didn't submit them because he believed the Lt. Governor's Office would not accept less than the 28,000 required by the law to get on the ballot.

"But for the limitations imposed by the government in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Burningham would have met the signature threshold by the deadline," his attorney, Cheylynn Hayman, wrote.

Governor Gary Herbert did allow a modified version of signature gathering in an executive order, but some candidates argued it came way too late. On March 13, Burningham held a news conference where he announced that he would suspend signature gathering because of the pandemic and urged other candidates to do the same thing. He lost the nomination at the Utah GOP convention in the third round of ranked-choice voting.

In a statement to FOX 13, Burningham said this remains a "critical election."

"When the governor declared a state of emergency in early March, I put the safety and well-being of all Utahns ahead of politics, to the detriment of my campaign. COVID-19 made it difficult to collect signatures, campaign, and share my vision with voters," he said. "I owe it to everyone who has supported me to exhaust every avenue to make it on the primary ballot. Many supporters and donors have urged me to pursue ballot access and with the lowered threshold, I intend to submit the signatures our team gathered."

Burningham is the second Republican gubernatorial candidate to sue the state over its signature-gathering requirements in the pandemic. Jan Garbett has a separate lawsuit and earlier this week a federal judge lowered the threshold for her. However, state elections officials said in a court filing on Wednesday it was "mathematically impossible" for her to qualify based on the signatures it had validated so far.

Thomas Wright, Spencer Cox and Jon Huntsman Jr. qualified for the June primary ballot with signatures. Cox and Greg Hughes emerged out of the GOP convention with the most delegate votes.